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Gen Y: The New Face of Construction



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From the field to the boardroom, the construction industry has a deepening labor shortage at every level.

This is due in part to the Baby Boomer retirement wave, which presents both a challenge to the industry and an opportunity for all those Generation Y folks entering the workforce.

Now, construction jobs are not for everybody. They require brains, skill and the ability to use tools to shape or manipulate work. They also demand a certain internal toughness and a hands-on sensibility.

©iStock / kali9

Gen Y is needed to fill the industry's ranks and lead it into a new era.

Enter Generation Y (roughly, those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s), which is not only needed to fill the ranks, but to lead the industry into its next iteration.

Getting Connected

Gen Y needs jobs. Happily, according to many reports, this generation also has the right characteristics to revive old industries like construction and make them a more attractive career destination.

One concern expressed by construction executives regards lack of communication by the office, the field and other project parties.

Millennials, the "always connected" generation, should be able to solve that problem in a heartbeat.

So steeped are millennials in technology and social media that they treat their gadgets almost like body parts, the Pew Research Center reports ("Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next").

More than eight in 10 say they sleep with a cell phone glowing by the bed, poised to disgorge texts, calls, emails, songs, news, videos, games and wake-up jingles.

College Alternatives

Meanwhile, construction may help many who need direction find their way to new career paths.

Indeed, a huge plus for our industry is that there are entry points for every education or skill level, and there are few barriers to entry. Here, college becomes an option, not an expectation.

©iStock / Geber86

Construction offers many points of entry as a career, regardless of education or skill level.

Many college graduates today are feeling disappointed, and rightfully so. They worked hard to get in to a school, invested years to earn a degree, piled up debt to pay for it, and expected to find recruiters waiting for them after graduation. A college education was supposed to be the next step to success in life.

Instead, they found themselves alone, competing for a limited number of lesser jobs within a stagnant economy.

Now, a college degree can certainly enhance career choices. The more education and training an applicant has, the more opportunities are available.

Getting Started

But with a few exceptions (structural engineering, for instance), a college degree is not necessarily a prerequisite for construction. Entry-level employees can start earning a wage while learning the ropes and working toward a career.

In fact, it is more accurate to think of construction as an industry that is open to many different skills and backgrounds, not a single career choice.

This approach works especially well in the growing number of construction firms that have instituted career-path training programs. It could also be an integral part of a company’s succession planning.

Many Boomers started their companies back in the day when college was not as common as it is now. They grew up with their businesses, and they need good people to succeed them and keep the companies growing.

Mentoring Managers

Construction executives can connect with millennials through project management training programs and mentoring opportunities like the ACE Mentor Program.

©iStock / Squaredpixels

Some firms are instituting career-path training programs that need not start with a college degree.

That program is a partnership between businesses and all types of construction professionals who volunteer their time and facilities to introduce young people to construction careers.

ACE mentors have been successful in showing young people the wealth of opportunities available in the industry and the right path to get there.

After the Boom

Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are now beginning to retire in record numbers. And, as of now, there are not enough members of Gen X (the generation sandwiched between the Boomers and Gen Y) to take their place.

That will give Generation Y an opportunity to step in and take over sooner than you might think.

The opportunity for rapid advancement is very real, driven by the demographics of our aging workforce. These opportunities have gotten little press because the economy has been in the tank and much of construction has been in survival mode.

Now that we climbing out of the recession, the industry is growing again. And there are careers to be had at entry points that dovetail beautifully with the expectations and goals of Generation Y, regardless of education or skill level.

About the Authors

This article was written by FMI senior consultant Andrew “Andy” Patron and FMI research consultant Philip E. Warner. Email Andy or call him at 919.785.9239. Email Philip or call him at 919.785.9357.



“Building Success” is written by professionals at FMI, the world’s largest provider of management consulting, investment banking, and research for the engineering and construction industry. FMI serves contractors, building materials and equipment producers,architects and engineers,owners and developers,and others across the industry. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Business matters; FMI; Technology; Workers

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/15/2014, 9:10 AM)

The "Deepening Labor Shortage" in construction is a myth. Construction has the 3rd highest unemployment of any sector in the US economy, well above the US average. If construction employers can't get enough employees, they are simply not offering enough pay or aren't recruiting effectively. There are 678,000 construction workers who are out of a job and actively looking for work - many more gave up and went to work elsewhere. Many of these would return for better pay. Only leisure and agriculture have higher unemployment rates than construction.

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